The Grand River is the longest, most voluminous river in Southern Ontario1. It is considered to be a 'Heritage River'. It flows 290km from north to south, nearly bisecting the pointy triangle of land formed by the Great Lakes Huron, Ontario, and Erie.
It is not an anglicised version of the southern river made famous by John Wayne and others although it may lay claim to historical significance in its own right.
The Grand River begins in a marsh to the north of the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo.
Kitchener was founded by German immigrants, who called their new home 'Berlin'. Despite the name change, the city still hosts the second largest October beer fest in the world2. Large Mennonite and Amish communities still farm the surrounding land. They disavow modern convenience, live plainly, and tolerate tourists with good grace.
In its haste to leave Kitchener-Waterloo behind, the otherwise placid Grand sprints through a series of narrow gorges in the scenic Elora region.
Before entering Cambridge, the river slows again, as if to wonder what happened to the towns of Galt, Hespeler, and Preston, which gave up their separate identities to form the new city.
Next, the Grand flows through the small, town of Paris - ironically not a French speaking town - where Canadian National rail dares trains to cross its span on an improbable trestle bridge.
Continuing at a leisurely pace through pleasant farmland, the river winds, slow and shallow, to historic Brantford.
'Brant's Ford' is where Chief Joseph Brant brought the people of the Six Nations of the Iroquois. Most of the Grand River watershed was given to the Iroquois after the American Revolution, in appreciation of their loyalty to the British Crown, because such views had made them unpopular with their old neighbours in New York. Much of the land was then leased back to United Empire Loyalists under circumstances that are now a source of controversy and the inspiration for a celebrated curse. Mohawk Chapel, built in 1785, can still be visited on the left bank of the river.
Brantford was once home to Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. The Bell Telephone building in the city houses a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which, by common consent is deemed to represent Alexander Graham Bell. The telephone is so popular, and is such a source of pride, that an even grander memorial to its inventor features a bronze relief of several naked people reaching for something invisible, presumably a telephone, flanked by two colossal bare-breasted Amazons.
The Grand River drops over a series of weirs while passing through Brantford, then follows a languid and tortuous route past the Six Nations Reserve.
The Six Nations Of The Grand is the largest First Nations community in Canada. It hosts an annual 'Pow Wow' in July which should be a part of every visitors' itinerary. The Reserve is also home to Chiefswood, the residence of the celebrated poet E Pauline Johnson. This building has two identical 'fronts': one facing the road and one facing the river. The building was designed in this way in order to honour native and other visitors equally.
The river broadens and grows deeper as it approaches the town of Caledonia. Fishing, boating, and water-skiing are popular recreational activities in the area. Miles of gently rolling farmland pass before the river enters Dunnville, the last sizeable town before the Grand spills into Lake Erie.
The Grand River is very beautiful and is remarkably pristine. It offers tranquillity and a seemingly endless progression of vistas which, if not breathtakingly dramatic, have a uniquely compelling charm of their own. Wildlife such as Whitetail Deer and Great Blue Herons are abundant along its entire course.
It never plummets over mile-high cliffs. It does not have man-eating fish in it or electric eels. It just flows along with a quiet unassuming dignity.